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Opinion Editorial by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Preparedness

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Office of the Homeland Security Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010
For Immediate Release
August 29, 2007

WASHINGTON – Nobody likes to ponder the potential effects of devastating disasters, from the destruction of homes to the heartbreaking loss of loved ones. But, the best way to cope with those disasters is to plan for the worst, even as we hope for the best.

Many Americans never think they will face a situation requiring drastic action such as the evacuation of their homes. Worse, according to a recently released Harvard study, 31 percent of people in high-risk coastal areas would refuse an evacuation order in the event of a major hurricane. Even as Hurricane Dean approached, one-fourth of potentially at-risk Texans surveyed said they would not evacuate, either.

Clearly, when it comes to disaster preparedness and response, millions of Americans remain in a state of denial – precisely when risks appear to be rising. Over the past year alone, across America, people have lost lives or property in incidents ranging from floods to tornadoes to wildfires. And that is apart from the threat from terrorists who could attack without warning and inflict serious damage and loss of life.

By their nature, disasters can be unpredictable. First responders can't always get to everyone immediately. If your community is affected, it may take hours or days before they reach you. Residents who refuse to evacuate are not only risking their own lives and the lives of family members, but they are needlessly putting first responders in harm's way if a rescue is ultimately needed.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that if we think about and prepare for such emergencies today, we can help protect lives and property tomorrow.

Recognizing this, our Department of Homeland Security works closely with Citizens Corps, a community-based emergency preparedness and response movement headquartered in FEMA, and sponsors our nationwide Ready campaign to equip Americans for emergencies such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Every September, with the help of Ready and Citizens Corps, we promote National Preparedness Month. Throughout this month, we and our public and private-sector partners will be encouraging Americans to increase emergency preparedness in their homes, schools, and businesses.

We are asking Americans to do three things – get an emergency supply kit, make a family emergency plan, and be informed about different kinds of emergencies and how to respond to them.

A basic kit should include at least a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food, a battery-operated radio as well as an NOAA Weather Radio, a flashlight and batteries, a first-aid kit, a whistle for help, a dust mask, personal sanitation items, a wrench or pliers, a can opener, local maps, and possibly prescription medications, infant formula and pet food.

A family plan should describe how members will contact one another if they are separated. It should include an out-of-town contact number in case local telephone service is disrupted. A family should identify potential evacuation locations and think through how to "shelter-in-place" at home if needed.

Emergency information should include knowledge about the potential disasters, such as hurricanes, floods or fires in one's area.

How vital is emergency preparedness? Ask Judy Weitz.

I recently met with Judy while in New Orleans. She owns Compucast Interactive, an Internet services company for more than 250 New Orleans-area businesses. Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, Judy had secured dedicated computer servers in San Francisco and Philadelphia. She wanted to ensure that her clients' Web sites would function in the event of a hurricane.

Thanks to her foresight, Compucast became one of the few area Web providers still online after Katrina's devastation. Working from Houston, Judy helped stranded employees find places to stay, employers to communicate with them regularly, and businesses to begin rebuilding. She also offered to match job seekers with job creators.

What Judy did with her business, people can do with their families. Simply stated, they can prepare.

So during this year's National Preparedness Month, our three-fold message remains:

Get a kit, make a plan, and be informed.

You can go to and learn more about implementing your own preparedness plan. To get involved in your community's preparedness efforts, visit

By acting today, you can protect your family, your community, and our country for tomorrow.